The history of the place
Roşia Montană – Two thousand years of mining tradition
Roşia Montană was first attested in the documents back in 131, when it was named Alburnus Maior. Throughout the years, the specific activity of the area was gold mining, which started in the 2nd century A.D., during the Roman occupation. Roşia Montană is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe with a tradition in the exploitation of precious metals.
The Romans here set up the first permanent settlement for the slaves and colonists working in mines and established the first big gold and silver mines in the area. They were also the first to set up the first extraction galleries, where they used the most efficient mining techniques at the time. The galleries were dug using hammers, chisels and hammer picks and usually had several ramifications or even several layers. When the rock was very hard, the walls were heated with fire, and were then sprayed with water and vinegar in order to quickly cool them down. Because of the difference in temperature generated, the walls would crack and then, using the hammer pick, the miners would detach the rock pieces from which gold was then separated.
Today, only parts of the Roman galleries are still preserved, because the exploitations in the Middle Ages and beyond were done by extending and widening the existing Roman galleries. Most of them were destroyed entirely in 1970 when a quarry was set up in the Cetate area in a location where there was an entire system of galleries called the “Roman fortifications”, without conducting any research, inventorying and in situ conservation, where necessary.
The Apogee – the Austro-Hungarian period
Throughout the years, the area developed significantly because of mining, reaching its apogee at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Back then, Roşia Montană was a nice little town, whose center had paved illuminated streets, casino, cinema, theatre and ballroom with Venetian mirrors and a summer garden with a brass band. The elite of the locality was made of old miners’ families, who owned fortunes inherited from one generation to another. They lived in the centre of the town, where they had built large houses, often with two stories, inspired by the German dwellings from Transylvania.
“The gold fever” attracted people from various parts of Europe. Thus, communities of Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Slovaks and Jews settled in Roşia, for whom churches and schools were built. At that time, almost the entire population was involved in mining activities, even women and elder children. The area did not see the development of the specific handicrafts from the Apuseni Mountains, as the inhabitants of Roşia preferred to buy their products from the merchants coming from the neighboring villages. The very few craftsmen from the area either served in mining operations or had specific urban occupations, such as tailors and shoemakers.
The Communist period
After 1948, when all the private holdings were nationalized, the extraction of precious metals continued in the State-owned mine, mining still being the main occupation of the locals. In time, a new centre was built with blocks of flats and the old centre lost the charm of the Bohemian atmosphere from the interwar period. As the years went by, it fell into oblivion and decay.
In 1970, gallery mining was abandoned and the first open pits were established in the Cetate area, and later in Carnic. During those times, the mining activities followed the principles of the centralized economy. Thus, only primary mining stages took place in Roşia, while cyanidation was performed in Baia de Aries and final processing took place in Baia Mare.
During the Communist regime and after 1989, the State mine from Roşia Montană incurred many losses, the expenses being almost three times higher than the benefits. The old technology, the lack of investments and lack of a clear development plan resulted in the closing of the mine in 2006.